NASCAR Atlanta Update: Stewart falls back after contact with Kyle Busch; Kenseth leads

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In his return to NASCAR competition, Tony Stewart has found some trouble before the halfway point of the Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Following a restart at Lap 122 of 325, Kyle Busch pinched Stewart on the backstretch, causing both of them to tag the outside wall. A caution came out shortly after for Marcos Ambrose, but both Stewart and Busch were forced to go to the pits for right-side damage repairs.

After pitting multiple times for that, fresh tires, and a realignment of the front end of his car, Stewart took a Lap 135 restart in 21st position (one spot behind Kyle Busch in 20th). He was still in 21st place at halfway.

Up front, Matt Kenseth was the halfway leader, with Kevin Harvick in second, Kurt Busch in third, Brad Keselowski is fourth, and Denny Hamlin is fifth.

With the eyes of perhaps the entire sports world upon him, Stewart quickly made progress early on from 12th on the grid. Riding the high line, Stewart moved from 12th to 7th in the first two laps and then rose into the Top 5 by Lap 20.

Meanwhile, pole sitter Harvick had a relatively uneventful stint pacing the field – except for a moment where he spotted an apparent animal crossing Turn 3 in front of him. Harvick radioed that he thought the animal was a cat, but it was later reported by PRN Radio that it was actually a squirrel.

A debris caution slowed the field at Lap 38, but not before Harvick had lapped half the field in the opening (Austin Dillon was the last car on the lead lap in 22nd at the time).

Following the first wave of stops for the leaders, Harvick and Jeff Gordon retained the top two spots, while teammates Kenseth and Hamlin each jumped multiple spots to take third and fourth respectively. Carl Edwards came out fifth, but had to return to the pits to have a scoring transponder replaced on his car; however, he was given P5 back before the restart at Lap 45.

Stewart was dropped to sixth after the stops, then lost another spot off the restart. He was able to return to the Top 5 by Lap 60, while up front, his teammate and employee Harvick once again pulled away.

At Lap 78, Gordon slammed into the Turn 3 wall after blowing a tire, bringing out the caution. While he got repairs on pit road, Hamlin was able to out-hustle Harvick and claim the lead after stops.

During that caution, Clint Bowyer – who entered tonight holding a 31-point cushion over the Chase cutoff – had to go to the garage.

“Shifter’s broke,” Bowyer yelled in the car. “Son of a [gun].”

Bowyer is currently 15th on the Chase Grid, but his post-season hopes have likely taken a hit ahead of next weekend’s regular season finale at Richmond. He eventually returned to the track following the Lap 100 mark, but at 22 laps off the pace and in 42nd position; he’s since moved up slightly to 40th.

Harvick pressured Hamlin for the lead immediately on the restart at Lap 85. But after a couple of laps, Hamlin won the battle, with Harvick settling in second and Kenseth taking third from Keselowski. A bit farther back, Stewart began to falter for the first time tonight as he dropped out of the Top 10.

Hamlin kept P1 until Lap 108, when Harvick passed him down the backstretch to re-take control of the race. He again pushed his lead to over one second, leaving Hamlin to deal with Keselowski for second.

A spin for Ryan Truex in Turn 4 brought out a yellow at Lap 116 and led to the leaders pitting again. Here, Hamlin’s No. 11 pit crew again earned their money with another quick stop that got him out ahead of Harvick.

On the restart at Lap 122, Stewart and Kyle Busch made their contact down the backstretch. Moments later, Ambrose pulled off the track with smoke billowing from the rear of his car.

Due to an extended cleanup of pit road after Ambrose dropped fluid there, the restart didn’t come until Lap 135. One lap later, Kurt Busch went to the outside of Kenseth and claimed the lead for himself, but Kenseth was able to take it back at Lap 159.

Kenseth is seeking his first win of 2014.

IndyCar Paddock Pass: Indy Carb Day Special (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Alongside NBCSN’s coverage of Carb Day practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, we have the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, which this week features interviews from Indy 500 media day leading into Carb Day.

Anders Krohn is back in action, ahead of a busy day for him as he will be in the booth calling the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100.

Interviews took place with Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon and Fernando Alonso. Alonso’s coverage highlighted media day, as there was an absurd number of people populating around his station on Thursday.

Dixon has the pole for Sunday’s race, with Carpenter starting second, Alonso fifth and Andretti eighth.

You can see the episode above. Past IndyCar Paddock Pass episodes are below:


It’s ‘Indy Leist’ – Matheus Leist, Carlin dominate Freedom 100

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INDIANAPOLIS – Brazilian rookie Matheus Leist has his first career victory in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires following a flag-to-flag victory in the No. 26 Carlin Dallara IL-15 Mazda from pole position in the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It was a tough race, we had the pace and the car was just amazing. It was just an amazing race. It’s my first race on an oval and I couldn’t be happier,” Leist told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt.

The usual photo finishes that have been a staple of this race ceded to Leist’s dominance, with a win by 0.7760 of a second over Aaron Telitz, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion posting his second podium finisher of the year.

Telitz edged Dalton Kellett for second at the line by just 0.0641 of a second. Both drivers took shots at Leist but were unable to pass him.

“Definitely an exciting finish. I was trying to get around Matheus. Our car was good in traffic but they were more trimmed out. When I got alongside, I couldn’t get him,” Telitz told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis. “I had limited opportunities. I wore off my front tires, then went more aggressive on my roll bars. We had a great car but not the car to win.”

“It was a great move by Aaron. I had a big run on Leist and have another photo finish. I was trying to play with the apron. Aaron got me – it was great pass by him,” Kellett told Hargitt. “We go slower. It makes for great drafting.

Meanwhile with Kyle Kaiser and Nico Jamin having anonymous finishes in ninth and 10th, and with Colton Herta crashing out on the first lap, it’s brought the championship even tighter.

Herta’s boom-or-bust rookie season in the No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing car rolled on. After starting second, the 17-year-old ran on the outside of teammate Dalton Kellett through Turn 2, but spun after contact between the two – and collected teammate Ryan Norman in the No. 48 car in the process. Kellett was lucky to avoid damage to the right front wheel and suspension, which touched the left rear of Herta’s car to send him spinning.

It shifted the order with Zachary Claman De Melo moving up to second off the start behind Leist, with Kellett third, Neil Alberico fourth and Aaron Telitz in fifth. Kyle Kaiser and Nico Jamin noved up to ninth and 11th from 11th and 13th in the incident, respectively.

“Well, I don’t know if I can say what he was thinking!” Bryan Herta, Colton’s father, told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “It’s a shame. They both had great cars. Looking at it, maybe he didn’t know Dalton was still on the inside. It’s not how you want to start the race. Unfortunately he is out early.”

Both drivers were understandably disappointed, but relieved to be OK after being checked and released from the infield care center, cleared to drive.

“I’m fine. Little X-Ray. No problem. I saw (Kellett) but I don’t really know what happened. I need to look at the data and video,” the younger Herta told Beekhuis.

Norman told Beekhuis, “I’m physically fine, but just really disappointed. It was our highest starting position. Wrong spot at the wrong time. Andretti gave me a great car all month. We’ll come back stronger at Road America.”

Kellett, post-race, told Hargitt about the incident: “I’m on the inside, it’s the first lap, caught some dirty air, I understeered up into him and that collected him, and collected Ryan. You never want to have contact with your teammates. At least we’ve got a podium finish.”

The restart occurred at the conclusion of Lap 5, and start of Lap 6, after the first and only caution flag of the race.

By Lap 15, Leist led by 0.6077 of a second but Kellett, Telitz and Alberico had moved up to second, third and fourth with Claman De Melo falling back from second down to fifth.

At half distance Telitz moved within striking distance of Leist into second. At the halfway mark it was Leist 0.3486 of a second ahead of Telitz with Kellett, Alberico and Claman De Melo in the top five.

Leist pulled away from there and the only photo finish this time around was for second, as Telitz got Kellett right at the line. The gap was a huge one by recent Indy Lights standards, 0.7760 of a second to Telitz and 0.8401 to Kellett.

Alberico and Santiago Urrutia, who started 12th but moved forward during the race, completed the top five.

Forgettable races occurred for points leaders Kaiser and Jamin, who ended ninth and 10th. Unofficially they still sit 1-2 in points with 151 and 137, Herta falls to third with 129 while Telitz and Alberico (122) and Leist (121) are within range.

Bourdais, Coyne upbeat during Carb Day practice check-ins (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais hopes to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, just over a week after his accident left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an accident in qualifying.

The Frenchman has already been released from IU Methodist Hospital on Wednesday and during NBCSN’s coverage of Carb Day practice, checked in with the booth crew to update his recovery progress.

“I think I’m doing as well as I could have ever hoped for,” Bourdais told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “My surgery went well. I was walking two days after the wreck. It’s been a little weird! But the pain is managed.”

Team owner Dale Coyne also checked in on Bourdais’ progress as well.

“He’s feeling good. He moved out of hospital Wednesday,” Coyne told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “If all goes as planned, we’ll get him out here Sunday.”

As for when Bourdais can return to the cockpit?

“The surgeon said he’s out for season… of course Seb says he wants to do Le Mans!” Coyne laughed. “It’s going to be a long recovery. But Sonoma? Maybe.”

Also during the segment, NBCSN pit reporter Jon Beekhuis noted an older specification rear wing configuration on the back of Bourdais’ replacement, James Davison’s No. 18 GEICO Honda. This should help Davison on Sunday.

Hinchcliffe engine issue hits Carb Day practice, as Castroneves leads

Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves has led the final one-hour practice session ahead of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, but it’s a Honda that made the bigger news during the extended session.

Another Honda engine issue – at least the eighth this month between the INDYCAR Grand Prix, practice and qualifying – now struck James Hinchcliffe during the final 20 minutes of the session in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Heading into Turn 3, Hinchcliffe’s gold and black car took on a distinctly white hue by contrast, as smoke billowed out the back of the car. It littered the track between Turns 3 and 4.

Yet as Hinchcliffe, the 2016 race polesitter explained to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt, the timing was as good as it could have been considering had it happened later it would have been in the race itself.

“I felt what the engineers would call a suboptimal rapid negative acceleration heading into Turn 3,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN. “We’ve had some issues across the Honda camp. It’s less than ideal.

“I felt bad going into 3. I hope we weren’t leaking too badly. I’m happy it didn’t happen 20 minutes later, that would have been Lap 5 of the race. We’ll get an engine, we’ll put it in. But that was by far the best we’ve felt on the 5 car all month. Let’s put this thing to bed. The car feels really good in traffic.”

Hinchcliffe will start 17th on Sunday. He ended his truncated practice in 14th.

Photo: IndyCar

Behind another gold car – the gold-and-white No. 3 car of Castronves – Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan completed the top three, with Scott Dixon and Fernando Alonso completing the top five.

Speeds are below.